Obama Now Has Enough Votes to Get a Big Iran Deal Win [Updated]

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Barbara Mikulski.Photo: Bill Clark/© 2015 CQ-Roll Call, Inc.

If President Obama has to veto a resolution rejecting the Iran deal later this month, Congress will not have the votes to override it, thanks to Maryland senator Barbara Mikulski. On Wednesday, she became the 34th senator to announce her support for the nuclear agreement, which means the deal is all but certain to survive legislative censure. 

Without question, this vote is among the most serious I’ve taken. This vote has monumental and enduring consequences,” the Maryland Democrat said in a statement this morning. Mikulski, the longest-serving female senator in U.S. history, added that she “did [her] homework,” talking to constituents, Jewish leaders, diplomats, and experts. She explained how her questions about the deal were answered at great length, concluding“No deal is perfect, especially one negotiated with the Iranian regime. I have concluded that this Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is the best option available to block Iran from having a nuclear bomb. For these reasons, I will vote in favor of this deal. However, Congress must also reaffirm our commitment to the safety and security of Israel.” 

Yesterday, when it was still uncertain who the 34th vote would be — or whether there would be one — many thought that the other Maryland senator, Ben Cardin, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, might be the deciding vote. “It’s been intense,” he told the Washington Post. As of Wednesday morning, only two Democratic senators had announced their disapproval of the deal: New York senator Chuck Schumer and New Jersey senator Bob Menendez. “I made a decision of conscience, as have my colleagues, and I respect theirs,” Schumer said today, according to Newsday.

If seven other senators support the agreement, Obama won’t even have to veto any potential resolution renouncing the deal. Ten Senate Democrats still haven’t announced their position on the deal; at least 93 House Democrats support it. Susan Collins is the only undecided Republican vote in the Senate. Every single Republican presidential candidate vehemently opposes the deal. 

Hillary Clinton, who announced her support of the deal shortly after it was finalized, will give a speech on the nuclear agreement next Wednesday, per The Wall Street Journal. On the same day, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Glenn Beck will be at a tea-party rally opposing the deal outside the Capitol.

The Los Angeles Times spoke to a Republican congressional aide who went so far as to blame Trump — and Hillary’s emails — for the lack of success in convincing enough Democrats to oppose the deal. 

The Senate will begin debating the deal when summer recess ends after Labor Day next week. Although it looks like the deal’s opponents have lost this round, congressional Republicans have discussed other ways of showing their disapproval, like passing additional sanctions against Iran because of human-rights abuses and making sure existing sanctions are reauthorized.

Secretary of State John Kerry told CNN that the lobbying for support would not end now that the veto was no longer in peril. “Thirty-four votes are obviously enough votes for the president’s veto to be upheld. That is not satisfactory for us. We do want to try to go further. We’ll continue to persuade.”

In a passionate speech in Philadelphia on Wednesday, Kerry addressed the deal’s critics, noting that Iranian leaders worried that the U.S. would back away from a deal. “Why on earth would we now take a step to prove them right?” He added, “The benefits of this agreement far outweigh any drawbacks.”

Kerry also said that the U.S. is committed to helping Israel — which is not too happy about the Iran deal — with additional aid in the upcoming years that would “cement for the next decade our unprecedented levels of military assistance.” Kerry repeated these assurances in a letter to Congress. “The president has made it clear that he views Israel’s security as sacrosanct,” Kerry wrote, “and he has ensured that the United States has backed up this message with concrete actions that have increased U.S. military, intelligence, and security cooperation with Israel to their highest levels ever.” Opponents of the deal — including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — have spent millions trying to get legislators to vote for the anti-deal resolution. 

While Kerry continues to try to convince the remaining undecided legislators to support the deal, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems equally set on convincing them to do otherwise. An Israeli official told the Jerusalem Post, “The prime minister has a responsibility to speak out against the deal that threatens this country, the region and the world. And he will continue to do so.”

This post has been updated throughout.